Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #245 – If You Can’t Say Something Good…

Read Peter Jahn... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, October 9th – You know the saying. Last week, after the prerelease fiasco and so forth, I literally could not write anything worth saying. I could spew venom like an encounter-level 30 forums troll, but I had nothing useful to say. I can write coherently, and civilly, now… I hope.

You know the saying. Last week, after the prerelease fiasco and so forth, I literally could not write anything worth saying. I could spew venom like an encounter-level 30 forums troll, but I had nothing useful to say. I can write coherently, and civilly, now.

I hope.

I want to cover a few things: the prerelease, the Shards rule at the release party, the new set, online con8s, MEDII, etc. Let’s start with the prerelease.

The Madison Prerelease

I went to the local prerelease. It was a Legion Events big prerelease – meaning that it had all the trappings. In this case, of course, all the trappings meant sealed Swiss events, open dueling, 2HG — but not drafts. Wizards had forbidden drafts at the prereleases. (If your venue had drafts, they were violating thier agreements with Wizards, and that may be the last time that store will have sanctioned events for a while.)

Some / many local stores had complained about drafting. They had pointed out — possibly correctly — that drafts at the prerelease got so much product into players hands that it cut into sales at the local stores once the set actually hit the shelves. That may be true — I don’t know. Wizards probably does know — and they banned drafting.

Players were pissed. A lot of players come to the prereleases Saturday and Sunday simply to draft. Sealed does it for some people — but not for others. I don’t remember seeing a number of the hard-core drafters. For that matter, I don’t remember seeing a number of the regulars.

The Madison Prerelease was down from the several hundred unique we used to see. This time around, we had somewhere in the 80-100 player range – miserable for Madison, but apparently nowhere near as bad as many of the other areas. Everyone knew that attendance would be down — Legion Events had slashed staff, with Steve Port doing TO/ops/scorekeeping, and Chris Richter and a pair of other judges wearing staff shirts.

I played in one early morning flight (or “pod,” in the local dialect.) Pods were cut to 24 players from the old 32 player standard of prereleases past. We still played four rounds of Swiss, but the prize support had fallen drastically. Going 4-0 now only wins you 6 packs. That’s not terrible, since most people don’t come to prereleases to win product, but that does not mean that the prize support needs to be stingy. (Well, considering that Wizards is shipping product to tons of little stores, many of whom may not get events to happen at all, maybe their bottom line says it does. I’ll rant later.)

I had avoided studying the spoilers, so I was entering the event pretty much cold. It is more fun that way.

My pool was interesting. I won’t go into details, since Steve Port supplied a tournament pack and three boosters of product per player — a booster more than you will see at the PTQs. That makes the card pool pretty much useless for comparison. I simply opened, registered the pool, then started reading and sorting the pool.

I did know that this was a multi-colored set, so my first concern was lands. I had a New & Improved Invasion tapland in GRB, a pair of Terramorphic Expanses (in pretty much opposing colors shards) and a three-color artifact. That helps, a bit.

My next check was removal. I had eleven playable / semi-playable removal spells, counting the obligatory Giant Growth and the pinger. I always start my pool review by checking out the removal, and even though I was unfamiliar with most of the cards, they aren’t hard to figure out. I had a five mana Lightning Bolt that made a Drudge Skeleton. I had a Rift Bolt that cycled for double damage instead of suspending. I had two Oblivion Rings (nice reprint — sure needed that in Standard.) I had a Chastise that cycled. I had a Charm that included tap all your guys and Lightning Bolt your guy among the options. I had a card that read “Bolt your flier, and your little dog, too.” I also had a Black not-so-Sudden Death charm, but it didn’t fit well.

I had a lot of removal. I then passed the first test for Sealed deck construction: I played all of it (except the off-color charm).

I next checked for bomb rares and Mythic “I Win the Game” cards. I had one Mythic Rare — Kresh the Bloodbraided. That, plus the RUB charm, was the whole of my playable Black. Time to move on.

I next checked creatures. I had the indestructible 5/5 that could make all of my other five-power dudes indestructible. I had two of the Green 5/5 cyclers. I had a White 5/5 cycler. I had a White 5/7 with some nifty abilities. I had a 5/5 with Vigilance and Haste. I had a 5/5 with fire-breathing. I had a 5/3 that could give my creatures trample. I had a 6/4 with cycling. I had a 5/4 for three mana.

I had at least nine playable 6-7+ or drops — almost a dozen fatties in all. I then passed the second deck-building challenge: I cut them. I played one 5/5 cycler, the indestructible dude, and the Woolly Thoctar. Before the cuts, I had something that looked like a really bad subprime balloon mortgage. After the cuts, I had a mana curve.

Cutting all the fat left me a bit short of creatures — I had a few grey ogres, a pair of small fliers, a tapper and some speedy stuff. And removal. (And a dozen super-fatties sitting on the ground, because the bench could not hold them.) My manabase was also too close to a 6/6/6 for comfort, but I played all the fixing I could and had worked hard to avoid double colors, so I thought it could work.

It did. I actually strung together four rounds of solid play, and won the pod. I felt a bit bad about stealing some rating points from Gaudenis Vidugiris along the way, but after GP: Indy, I figured he had enough to spare. My pod also included Sam Black and some other really good players — a surprising amount of talent for a 24 player pool at a prerelease. Part of that was because it’s Madison — but a bigger part was because it attendance was down.

I really hoped the prerelease changes would work. I hoped it could help the little stores. It was pretty obvious that the premier TOs were going to get shafted on this — and they were. They lost a lot of money both through the shattering of the player base and the no-drafts rule.

Evan Erwin talked the prereleases on his show. I agree with most of what he said. I do think he missed one big problem, however.

Do you remember seeing the ads for the prereleases on the Wizards website?

Nope — me either.

Wizards, WTF is up with your marketing?

If you wanted to find a prerelease location, you had to dig about six layers deep and then navigate a strange set of choices. For example, if you wanted to find a prerelease in the Wisconsin area, you could not jump to a map of the world or the US and click on the location, the way a real website would operate. Nor could you enter a state or province in a search box and jump to the release areas. Instead, you had to click on the correct “region” in a list, and that would jump you to a large spreadsheet of venues.

The region Wisconsin is in: Midwest? Nope. “North East Central.”


Once you get to the spreadsheet, if you can, you see the date of the event, the venue name and the street address. The spreadsheet also includes a phone number and email address. It does NOT include the starting time, cost, whether it is a big or small prerelease — and does not include a link to the TO’s website, which would have all this stuff. After all — players want to know when a tournament starts, and how much it will cost. Why in the world would Wizards not include a website link?

For an example of advertising the prerelease done right, look at this here website. StarCity had a “Big Prerelease” webpage ad front and center on the main page — exactly at eye level when people opened the site. Pete Hoefling was advertising for other TOs’ events. It was advertising done right.

WotC? Not so much. More like Epic Fail.

All I want for Christmas is for WotC to get a professional PR department, and use it. I’m impatient. I really don’t want to wait until Christmas for that. I don’t think WotC can, either.

Open Dueling

I’m a big fan of open dueling — mainly because I hate sitting around waiting for a round to finish. I have found that I can often finish my match, then play some open dueling games before the next round starts. It is also a great way to get your hands on some extra cards — and one huge reason for attending prereleases is to get your hands on some cards…

For those who haven’t tried this, open dueling is pretty simple. Each player gets a random precon deck, and plays to play against other precons or sealed decks form prerelease flights. Players play single games — several against any given opponent, if they prefer, or just one. When an open dueling player collects signatures from five different opponents, win or lose, the player gets a free booster pack.

It’s just low stress, play-for-fun good times.

The old precons were 60 card, tournament legal decks. The new precon configuration is 40 cards, plus a foil rare that the deck centers on, plus a booster pack. Players, this time around, were uncertain about whether open dueling required you to play with 40 cards, the 41 cards (precon plus foil, without the booster), or whether you could add cards from the booster — or even cards and other lands to make a 60 card deck. (Personally, I asked my opponent what they were doing, and matched that. Most were either playing 41 or making a 40 card deck with cards from the booster.)

It is a fun format, and definitely worth playing. Personally, if prereleases remain as they currently are structured, I might play just the 41 cards of the main deck and leave my boosters sealed. Getting draft packs is getting harder now.

My problem is that the decks themselves are not very well built, and the format does not play all that well. I was randomly handed the Bant Shard precon. The deck had a few things that made me raise my eyebrows. First, the precon had some Tenth Edition cards, like Suntailed Hawk and Wild Griffin. Why? Since the Bant deck is all about using Exalted to pump solo attackers, I guess there is some advantage to having some cheap evasion creatures, and Shards does not have many. I guess they were necessary – or maybe they are there to subtly convince new players to mix cards from different sets — but they sure look strange in the deck.

I have to say that the Bant mirror match is really stupid. Both sides quickly get four or more Exalted creatures into play, so even the 1/1 fliers turn into huge fliers when attacking. The “removal” in the precon consists of two Excommunicates (a bleached Time Ebb) and a pair of Pacifisms. Neither can really deal with the precon’s foil Battlegrace Angel, so whichever side gets this down first wins. Lifelink on big fliers is just too good.

I also noted that the Bant deck had some serious mana issues. I was often color screwed. The deck has a number of cards that cost double White in the mana cost — and they were often stuck in hand. The deck also had two copies of Steward of Valeron — a GW Grizzly Bear that taps for G — but the deck really had no use for Green mana. I would have been much happier with almost anything else — even something simple like Glory Seeker would have been castable, if not particularly useful.

I played against each of the other precons. I enjoyed the matches against most of them. Some games came down to which deck pulled their foil “general” first: those cards generally won. However, one deck stood out.

The Blue one. Surprised?

It seemed like Wizards was, once again, trying to teach players that Blue is just better than other colors. The Esper deck — wUb — was insane. I was playing the White-heavy Bant deck, and my removal was a pair of Pacifisms. The Esper deck had two Oblivion Rings, two 2/1 fliers with Deathtouch for UB, an artifact Seal of Doom, and ways of getting the artifacts back from their graveyards. The Blue deck had affinity effects going on — it was playing 4/4s for WUB — and it had other effects that pumped them to 5/5 or better.

My White deck dipped into Tenth Edition for Suntailed Hawk. Esper dipped into Tenth for Tidings.

My fallback rare was Knight Captain of Eos. Esper’s fallback rare was Sharding Sphinx.

For that matter, look at the Grixis Undead precon. It also dips into Tenth for a pair of Terrors. Note that the Terrors are fine cards — against everything but the Epser deck. Terror is completely dead against Esper. Every single Esper creature is an artifact.

I talked to a couple Esper players, and several players who had faced Esper. I found one instance of an Esper deck losing a game — and that was when Esper mulliganed to five and then never drew a third land. I faced a friend that had opened Esper, and even though my booster gave me a Bant Charm and a Resounding Silence, I could not win. We estimated that my deck, in that matchup even with the extra removal, was unlikely to win more than one game in twenty.

Wizards — doesn’t anyone actually playtest these decks?

Launch Party

Information on the launch parties was almost as easy to find as information on the prereleases.

The launch parties also tried a new idea — your Sealed deck had to be built within your favorite Shard. This means that if your Shard was Bant — uWb — then you could not play cards with R or B in the mana cost. You could play off-colored lands, but they could only produce either U, W, G or colorless mana. Ditto artifacts — if you were playing Bant, an Obelisk of Grixis could produce U or {1}.

Was this the end of the world? Hardly. Some players were reportedly upset because they could not splash for good removal spells (and I will admit that being able to regenerate my Skeletonize token in a RWG sealed pool did win me a game), but that was just the way it was. Everyone else played with the same restrictions. For me, it was just another odd format, like EDH, creature feature, peasant Magic, etc. I figured that it might be fun — but not fun enough to actually get me to head for the store. I had conflicts and skipped the Launch party.

The Classic PE

Here’s my perfect example of the problems Wizards has with marketing — or lack thereof. Online, Wizards was starting to push Masters Edition 2, and the Classic format. Classic was the one format that really benefited from the creation of the 321 Swiss queues, and the format was attracting a new set of players. To help reward it, Wizards decided to offer a special Premier Event for the Classic community.

The prizes were good — and offered both MED I and MED II Packs in the prize payout. Since MED I is now out of print, this event was the only new source of MED I packs around.

This was a great idea.

The problem was that it was not exactly well advertised.

I did not see feature articles on the PE on the main page at Wizards.com. I didn’t see it on the digital cards page. I didn’t see it anywhere on the site. I did not see any splashes on MTGO when I fired it up.

I didn’t get an email about the event, even though my email address is in Wizards file, and I had played Classic events in the recent past.

It was a great idea, and would have been a great event.

Wizards did try to get the word out. They posted a description of the tournament in the online forums — specifically in the deck critique, as I recall. The post went up at a bit after 2pm, seven hours before the tournament was due to start.

I got home shortly after the tournament was to have started, heard about it secondhand, rushed to the event room — and found that only six other players had joined. The minimum was 24, so the event never fired. We went to play in a Classic con8 instead.


Some people over at Wizards are really trying. Mike Gills, Worth, etc. — these people are doing good things. The problem is that no matter how good their acts, the black shroud that Wizards hangs over everything just muffles their efforts. Good PR could amplify what they do — the PR Wizards has now buries it.

WotC can haz PR plz? Okbythx


“one million words” on MTGO